Yosemite Annual Christmas Bird Count

Birders looking at woodpeckers in backpackers camp in Yosemite Valley in 2020.
Birders looking at woodpeckers in Yosemite Valley during the 2020 Christmas Bird Count.

Each year, tens of thousands of volunteers across the Americas join to participate in the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This event is a census of birds in the western hemisphere that provides population data for science. Yosemite's participation began in 1932 and has since contributed over 100,000 observations to the growing database of bird population trends. For many people, spending the day observing birds, reuniting with birding friends, and contributing to bird conservation makes their holiday season complete. The CBC is the longest-running community science survey in Yosemite and in the world.

The most recent Yosemite CBC took place on December 17, 2023, where six leaders and their respective groups sought to count as many birds as possible within a 15-mile radius circle, which included El Portal, Foresta, Yosemite Valley, and Chinquapin/Yosemite West. Each group spent all day searching their respective area, and leaders shared their knowledge of natural history and passion for birds. Leaders were also responsible for the accuracy of bird identification and data collection in their areas. At the end of the day, the six groups rejoined for a joyous dinner while sharing birding stories and compiling their data. In 2023, participants tallied 1,772 individual birds comprising 66 different species!

Pygmy owl in tree being harassed by titmice during the 2019 Christmas Bird Count.
Pygmy owl being harassed by titmice during the 2019 Christmas Bird Count.

Quentin Kendall

After a year of anticipation, birders were curious to see what species would be found and missed this year. Early risers heard the hoots of a California Spotted Owl in Yosemite Valley while their friends in Foresta saw a Northern Pygmy-Owl in daylight. Folks in El Portal spotted two gorgeous Townsend’s Warblers… and a species never before seen on the Yosemite Christmas Bird Count. On the drive up to Arch Rock a volunteer shouted, “Stop the car!” and when the El Portal group could safely pull over, they were rewarded with a dazzling male Wood Duck. However, they were not the only group to find a new bird. Meanwhile in Yosemite Valley, the group leader heard a familiar summertime call, “twii twii twii,” and found a Spotted Sandpiper along the riverbank. While most years find a Great Blue Heron and maybe a duck, five waterbirds were found in 2023: Mallard, Common Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Spotted Sandpiper and Wood Duck.

While low to average numbers of most bird species were found, almost every group found scores of robins fly over. Ultimately, 549 American Robins were tallied, the most since 2012! Further, only 12 robins were seen in 2022. While the American Robin has been seen every year, their count often fluctuates by a magnitude between years. Band-tailed Pigeons are another eruptive species with 451 seen in 2022 but only 8 seen in 2023. Many regularly found species were missed, including Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Bushtit, Canyon Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Fox Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Belted Kingfisher. Further, no falcons were found, a contrast to last year’s three species. However, the 66 species found in 2023 beat the average of 64 species and the 62 species found in 2022. Shockingly, only five more individual birds were found in 2023 than 2022 (1772 vs 1767 individual birds respectively).

Beyond the Wood Duck and Spotted Sandpiper, all groups reported some special moments. On the east side of Yosemite Valley, one group found a Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco (a color morph usually found in the Eastern United States) and a flock of fifty Pine Siskins dropping down to drink water. The high elevation group spotted a rare Red-naped Sapsucker, while the Foresta Road group watched a Golden Eagle soar of the scenic Merced River.

The next Yosemite Christmas Bird Count is December 15, 2024. To attend the full-day event, bring binoculars, a field guide, lunch, plenty of warm clothes, and sturdy shoes. Plan to be outside all day, from around dawn to dusk. An annual compilation potluck dinner closes the day to allow participants to share Yosemite birding highlights. To participate, you must register in advance by contacting the Yosemite Christmas Bird Count Organizer and Compiler.

Some historic highlights from Yosemite's Christmas Bird Count include:

  • A record 1,100 band-tailed pigeons counted in 1971.

  • A record 560 mountain chickadees in 1972.

  • A record 483 golden-crowned kinglets in 1953.

  • Two rare hooded mergansers spotted in 1940.

  • Great gray owls observed during five different annual bird counts.

white-headed woodpecker
White-headed woodpecker spotted during the 2014 annual event.

Learn More


Quick Tips

When bird-watching, experienced birders confidently identify birds by just a glimpse. (See illustrations of Yosemite's most common species.) Remember that a bird’s feathers change as an adult molts into its winter plumage. For many species, a male bird’s winter plumage is dull compared to his colorful plumage in the spring when he is interested in attracting a female with whom to mate. Also, note subtle nuances in a bird’s song or call—long trills or short chips. In the winter, birds rarely sing but make call notes to defend a territory, announce the presence of a predator, or to keep up with a mixed-species foraging flock.

Birders along the Wawona Road just south of Yosemite Valley 2015
Birders along the Wawona Road just south of Yosemite Valley in 2015.

Last updated: January 17, 2024

Park footer

Contact Info



Contact Us